The pictures that came from Tahrir Square on January 2011 inundated the world with the power of the Egyptian revolution. Among the cameras telling the story, there was the one owned by Esraa Al-Taweel, a young Egyptian photographer arrived who in Cairo in 2010, when she was just 17 years old.
Since the fall of Mubarak, Esraa has personally lived all the repressive policies suffocating Cairo since the 2013 putch. The year after that, on Jan. 25, 2014, she was in Mohandesin with her camera to immortalize the protests carried out by a population frustrated by the permanent lack of democracy: She was wounded by a bullet that left her paralyzed for a year.
A few months after, in June 2015, she was arrested. “I was dining with a few friends in Zamalek,” Esraa says, “when we were taken by the security services. I was made to disappear for 15 days. They interrogated me, and the district attorney accused me of spreading false information.” She came back home six months after that, in December, just to end up in house arrest.
Since January, she’s free. And she wants to get back the camera the police took away from her when she was disappeared inside of a prison. To do it, she launched a crowdfunding campaign, which has already collected almost half of the sum required: $4,650 out of the $10,000 required.
Her campaign says a lot: the difficulties an independent journalist goes through, the state repression, the forced disappearances. Thousands from when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has taken the President’s chair with the help of the military force, they’ve never been so many, not even under Mubarak. Nonetheless, there are those who deny the undeniable: the Ministry of Interior — the main agency responsible for the forced disappearances policy — refused the argument Tuesday, like you bat a fly away. “In Egypt, the crime of forced disappearance does not exist. There are no victims in Egyptian prisons,” said Ali Abdel-Mola, the vice minister, explaining the new report by the ministry discussing — or, rather, denying — the issue.
The ministry has been forced to carry out a new investigation by the National Council for Human Rights State Agency, according to which, in recent years, 331 citizen have unwillingly disappeared. Many less than those calculated by independent organizations: the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF) has documented, in 2015 alone, 1,840 disappearance cases, 202 from January to March of this year.
So it doesn’t seem a coincidence that Ahmed Abdallah, the ECRF’s Director, was among the 1,270 people arrested on April 25. He’s a symbolic figure, a known defender of human rights in Egypt. He’s also the consultant of the family of Giulio Regeni, a victim of forced disappearances and of the internal services’ capillary control over society.
Esraa, with her photo camera, focuses on a burning issue of which many in Europe have become aware only now. As a journalist, she knows well the regime’s violations against the press. On Wednesday, the Press Union held its much-anticipated meeting to identify new measures in the conflict with the Interior Ministry; hundreds took part, promising to continue protesting until Minister Ghaffar resigns. But there have been a few steps forward: Tuesday, the union has positively welcomed (partially) the law project proposed to the media by the government.
The journalists have declared themselves satisfied for the cancellation of crimes related to journalistic activity and to searches in homes and offices. Instead, the rules to launch new agencies have not been agreed to: a company with a minimum share capital of $50,000 and a manager with 10 years of experience will be required, requirements that are major obstacles for the independent realities born in these years.
The battle of the press is still a long one. It receives very little support from outside, general words of condemnation from the West to president el-Sisi. Yesterday, John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, returned to Cairo for the second time in a month to discuss an Egyptian initiative to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. sources have assured that Kerry has also dealt with the issue of internal repression.
But the former general is favored by the central role he obtained in Libya, in the “war against terror” and in the energy sector. The numbers mentioned by oil ministry in Cairo speak for themselves: Egypt calculates that the extractions carried out by the Italian ENI and the British BP in three gas fields will attract foreign investments of $25 billion in four years.
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